Fluid yet solid: River borders, infrastructure, and state making

Rivers have long functioned as effective borders. The papers in this panel aim to untangle the complex and integrated nature of political borders and infrastructure to better understand state-making processes by examining river borders. Unlike land borders that can be galvanized for overt displays of sovereignty and legitimacy, riverine borders are often reinforced by the creation and maintenance of infrastructure. Infrastructure, especially the creation of dikes, dams, shipping channels, are often indicative of the state of relationships between bordering nations. Investigating border infrastructure along and across rivers thus is a means to understand the longer and larger process of state making at hand.

Infrastructure is often seen as the hidden stuff i.e. an operative ground; infrastructure “lies unformed, hidden underneath.”[1] Infrastructure, however, has long held the promise of modernity and ‘development’. Examining the material and political lives of infrastructure reveal the relationship between humans, nonhumans and the institutions that seek to govern these infrastructures. Indeed, recent scholarship has argued that large-scale infrastructures generate their own set of extra state authorities[2]. Thinking of infrastructure as a “process enables us to better theorize how our simultaneously social and natural worlds are constantly being made”[3]. Thus, the study of infrastructure is inextricably tied to the study of state making and sovereignty.

As the lines (at least on maps) that neatly separate nation states from one another, political borders have long been tied to the project of state-making. Maps represent an abstract reality; cartography in a sense, ‘makes’ the world through the drawing of lines. As the limit and/or starting point of a national space, borders are seminal in framing the nation-state and thus are important sites to mark sovereignty and legitimacy. Yet, infrastructure and political borders have not always been examined as parts of a longer process of state-making.

This panel investigates the relationship between political borders and infrastructure, as a means to understand the mechanisms of state control, in an effort to integrate the political border into larger attempts at legitimacy as well as economic integration.

At this time, we are seeking fellow panelists, who work on rivers, borders, and infrastructure, across geographies and disciplines. The panel currently consists of two papers, one of which examines the relationship between border city development and political sovereignty. The other examines the relationship between dredging of an international river and commercial and territorial ambitions. Please feel free to contact me with any questions about the panel at swayampr@msu.edu

Abstracts can be submitted here!

The deadline for abstract submissions is September 30, 2017.

The 2018 Association for Borderlands Studies World Conference will take place from July 14-18, 2018, in Vienna and Budapest. For more information about the conference, please visit the conference website.